How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat

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To many, the very question seems absurd. After all, the Confederacy had only a third of the population and one-eleventh of the industry of the North. Not at all, as acclaimed military historian Bevin Alexander reveals in this provocative and counterintuitive new look at the Civil War. In fact, the South most definitely could have won the war, and Alexander documents exactly how a Confederate victory could have come about—and how close it came to happening. Alexander provides a startling account of how a relatively small number of tactical and strategic mistakes cost the South the war—and changed the course of history.

Lee led to the failure of the Confederacy. Thought-provoking and informative. Read An Excerpt. Paperback —. Add to Cart. About How the South Could Have Won the Civil War Destroying conventional historical wisdom, acclaimed military historian Bevin Alexander reveals how the South most definitely could have defeated the North-and how close a Confederate victory came to happening. Also by Bevin Alexander. See all books by Bevin Alexander. Product Details.

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KIRKUS REVIEW

More filters. Sort order. Sep 10, Kim rated it did not like it. I learned so much - for instance, I did not realize that the Civil War was fought entirely in Virginia and Pennsylvania. I did not realize that as late as the week before Appomattox, Lee could have won the Civil War, if he had just turned south to join Bragg in fighting Sherman. I did not realize that social and economic factors were irrelevant.

I did not realized that wars are won or lost based on tactics, not strategy. I did not realize that Lee was a great man. I did not realize that Shelby F I learned so much - for instance, I did not realize that the Civil War was fought entirely in Virginia and Pennsylvania. I did not realize that Shelby Foote was entirely wrong. This is a fantastic book for fans of historical delusion. View 1 comment. Jul 31, John Yelverton rated it really liked it. A great book, but the book really doesn't answer the question like the title says that it does. After all, the author stakes out a "what if" position and then goes on drawing conclusion after conclusion based upon an event or series of events that did not in fact happen.

In this case, Alexander seems to, on balance, take the curious position that the Union did not defeat the South in the Civil War, but that the South ultimately defeated itself. And that this defeat rests largely upon the heads of Jeffers "Counter-factual" history is probably harder to critique than it is to actually write. And that this defeat rests largely upon the heads of Jefferson Davis and Robert E.

And that the strategy advocated by Thomas H. Essentially: Davis - Hoped that the people of the North would soon grow tired of the war, and that recognition from the major European powers of the CSA would come quickly. Possibly a variant of the "King Cotton" strategy, but Alexander doesn't really go there. Lee - On balance advocated the destruction of the North's armies in the field, and tactically thought that the best method to achieve this was via frontal assault on the enemy's position, though he could be flexible in both method and approach Jackson - Per Alexander, advocated doing exactly what Sherman supposedly did when he "made Georgia howl," save in reverse.

And three years before Sherman even thought of doing such a thing, if Alexander is to be believed. Speed, maneuver, "living off of the land," keep the enemy off balance and guessing, and ONLY giving battle when the enemy is caught off-guard. Needless to say, quite a bit of simplification in the above, but I think it is a fair summary of Alexander's position.

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How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat

He also spends some time discussing how generals on both sides seemed to take lip service to Napoleon's conduct of the Napoleonic Wars as gospel, but then promptly ignored the most important elements of what made Napoleon successful. On balance, I very much like his overall approach: that nothing in war is foreordained, that people who speak of a Union victory as inevitable are mistaken, and that victory and defeat are the product of the actions, or inaction, of leaders, civilians, soldiers in the field, etc. And this particular "product," as noted, is a question mark at the start of hostilities and likely for very much of the balance of them.

I also thought his critique of generals using out-moded tactics again and again after they'd been shown to be absolute failures was very well done. Having said all of the above, I do have some important areas where he and I part company sharply.


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My first issue is that a great deal of what Alexander takes to have been Jackson's approach must be inferred, either from indirect statements or by his actions. Alexander himself notes this fact in several places. Second, Alexander seemed to think that had Jackson or Lee or someone successfully "kicked in the door" the entire "house" that was the North would have collapsed.

Possibe, I suppose, but it is not a point Alexander even attempts to prove.

There certainly was a "peace party" in the North, but even a large portion of that was not willing to give in and allow the CSA out of the Union unconditionally. Finallly, Alexander is probably correct in that historians have given too much attention to the disparities in numbers, railroad miles, industrial capacity, and even technical training, but I think Alexander himself goes a bit too far with discounting these things. As in, had the War continued into and beyond more and more Union troops would have been facing their opposites with "repeater" rifles, a leap in technology the South had no hope of matching.

I could say more, particularly related to Alexander's almost completely ignoring all matter Naval, but I think this is sufficient for a GR review. Simply because reasonable people can disagree on this or that point, or how much weight such-and-such a factor deserves, this work was the sort that made one think. Even when said "thinker" if I can dignify myself with such a term : ultimately rejects several of an author's conclusions and premises.

Aug 06, Daniel rated it it was amazing. Excellent book; highly recommended. The author has given a very convincing overview that draws you into the period and the choices of generals, presidents, and other leaders that led to the South's eventual defeat. This reshaped my view of Robert E. Lee: he was a great field commander far superior to most of his Northern counterparts but with an antiquated and deeply flawed notion of how to win an 's war.

Grant was not much better, but he had many more men to follow him.

By contrast, Stone Excellent book; highly recommended. By contrast, Stonewall Jackson and to some extent, the Union general Sherman appreciated the importance of manuevers, foremost his defend, then flank attack, which won battles but did not convert Lee. After the war, Lee was one of the greatest influencers for peace with the North, in example and precept.

He may have been, in the long run, the greatest single contributor to the solidarity of the United States today. The book does dig into technical details of battles, and the maps, while a big help, could have been well complimented with some photos.

How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: the Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat

Really, someone needs to do an interactive 3d map where you can place armies and equipment of variable size, but I won't hold that against Mr. Jun 10, Nathan Albright rated it liked it Shelves: challenge I vaguely remember reading a bit about this book in one of my favorite works by noted Civil War historian James McPherson [1], and there were some unkind but true things said about this book.

In at least some ways, this author makes the sound point that the Confederacy could have won the Civil War, which is something that a lot of people seem to forget.


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That essential point is really the main thing that this book gets right, that there was a road to victory for the Confederates, one which dema I vaguely remember reading a bit about this book in one of my favorite works by noted Civil War historian James McPherson [1], and there were some unkind but true things said about this book. That essential point is really the main thing that this book gets right, that there was a road to victory for the Confederates, one which demanded attention to issues of grand strategy and logistics and attacking the will of the North to subjugate the South.

We all know that this did not happen and that the Confederacy lost, but the fact that the Confederacy could have won had it fought smarter ought to sting some of those whose lost cause perspective is colored with rose-tinted glasses and nostalgia about the way things could have been. If this book has many flaws, it at least gets one thing right, and that is we should not speak of the victory of the Union as inevitable, but rather something that could have easily gone another way.

The contents of the book demonstrate a common disease popular among Civil War historians known as Virginiaitis.

HOW THE SOUTH COULD HAVE WON THE CIVIL WAR by Bevin Alexander | Kirkus Reviews

In this particular syndrome, we see so much attention paid to the Eastern Theater between Washington DC and Richmond that large parts of the rest of the Confederacy are nearly forgotten. There is some logic in that while the author spends most of his space talking about the early part of the war--although the book itself is just over pages of text before its lengthy notes, we do not reach the Battle of Gettysburg until page , and that is the second to last chapter of the book, which includes chapters on the Shenandoah Valley campaign, the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville.

Throughout the book the author sets up a divided trinity between Jefferson Davis, Robert E.